Captain Gould, hands still on his hips, turned to Lt. Chalmers. “Yes?”
“Sir, all units are in position. We’ve set up a four-block perimeter around the area, like you said. But, there are gaps–alleys, buildings cut off from our line of sight. We don’t have enough manpower for a perimeter that big.”
“I know, Jim. That’s what I told the chief, too.”
“If we know where the suspect is, why don’t we close in on him? Why are we spreading our men so thin?”
“I don’t know. These aren’t my orders. They’re coming from the state, and it sounds like they’re getting them from the private sector.”
“Private sector?” Jim said. “How do we know this is an actual criminal then? We haven’t even been told the suspect’s identity.”
“Who the hell knows?” Gould picked up his secure frequency radio and barked, “All units are in position. Orders are to maintain the perimeter. Repeat, do not penetrate the perimeter under any circumstances, no matter what you see. Suspect is considered armed and extremely dangerous, but we are not to engage. Repeat, do not engage.” He paused for emphasis. “Take no action other than to secure the perimeter. Out.”
“Sir,” Lt. Chalmers said, “If these aren’t our orders, who’s giving them?”
Captain Gould turned from Chalmers to the footsteps behind him. The man in question was walking toward them. His stoic face covered his anticipation and frustration flawlessly.
“The men are in position,” Gould said to him. “Orders have been issued. Now, can you tell me what it is we’re doing? Or why? S.W.A.T. is not your personal army.”
“Do not allow anyone to penetrate the perimeter. Either inside or out,” Harrington said.
“We don’t have enough men to close all the gaps. How are you gonna know if your suspect’s escaped?”
“Contact has been made,” Harrington said, seeming to not hear the captain at all. “Maintain extreme vigilance.”
“Contact’s been made? How do you know that?” Gould asked. “You haven’t even told us who we’re looking for.”
“Fulfill your orders, captain,” Harrington said. “That is all.”
Gould grimaced. This had been the story all night. First, rousing every available S.W.A.T. unit in the metro area, then having to follow vague instructions, most of which contradicted standard operating procedures.
Harrington pulled out a PDA. “Contact me with any unusual activity. I’ll inform you of further developments.” He walked away.
Gould half-grunted, half-sighed. “And where are you going to be?”
Harrington didn’t answer him. He headed back to the white van parked two blocks away. He didn’t want S.W.A.T. to have any contact with them, for both parties’ protection. They were using one hunter to track down another. The less they interfered, the better.
Also, Harrington did not want anyone to see what was happening in the van.
One would expect all sorts of surveillance equipment and technological gadgetry inside. There was none. They did not deal with spy tactics or CCTV cameras. They didn’t need to.
The van was empty except for one chair, upon which Greene was sitting. His arms and torso fell slack against the back of the chair. His head lolled to the side, and his eyes bulged white with dilated pupils. A thick line of drool hung from his open jaw.
Harrington slammed the back door shut.
“All right, hang in there, Greene. Come on.”
Harrington sat cross-legged near the doors and watched. He didn’t expect a response. But he got one.
Greene’s jaws clapped up and down like a ventriloquist dummy. “I like you. Let’s be friends.”
“I like you. Let’s be friends,” the corpulent man said. “My name is Gray. What’s yours?”
Rion scrambled to his feet and faced into the alley. He couldn’t believe this wasn’t a man in a costume. He looked like an escapee from the circus.
“Who are you?” Rion asked.
“Identity? Mm, such an interesting shadow. We can talk.” He spoke in a voice that did not suit his presence at all–willowy and whispering, like a fairy. “You don’t look like you belong here.”
“Um,” Rion didn’t know what to say. Was this a crazy homeless man? He was only five feet tall, but his overcoat was eight sizes too big. His collar covered his face except for the pale pate of his wide, bald, veiny head. And for some reason he was wearing round, dark glasses at night.
“What do you want?” Rion said.
“Ooh, I hadn’t considered,” he squealed delightedly. “That sounds good. I’ll have that.”
“You want money? I don’t have any.”
“Gray doesn’t want money.”
“Look,” Rion said, “I’m sorry if I bothered you.” He stepped off the curb.
Gray held up one hand, the gray-brown sleeve whipped up like a ribbon. “Don’t go. Please. It gets so lonely. And there are wolves after me. I have to take you somewhere.”
“What?” Rion turned around. “Are you… are you here for me?”
“Ohhh.” Gray held up his hands to his head. “So many memories. It doesn’t even know them.”
“Wait.” Rion stepped back on the curb and approached him. “Do you know me? Do you know who I am? Are you like me?”
“No, no, no, no, no, too fast, too fast, too many questions, please don’t. I knew what I wanted to do, why couldn’t they let me get on with it?”
“Do you know who I am? Please!” Rion stepped closer again.
“No. No. No!” Gray dropped his hands. “Stop that. Stop the needles. Stop the fire. Don’t make me go back there. I- I’m free now. Free now. Free now. I’m a free man. I’m a man.” He stopped convulsing and pointed a dangling cuff at Rion. “You. You I hate. Why did you do that to me?”
“What? What did I do? Do you know me?” Either this man was part of his past life, or he was homeless or had schizophrenia.
“I hate you. I hate all your lives,” Gray shouted. “I want you to die. Die-die-die-die-die-die-die-die.” He kept saying it over and over like a magical incantation.
“Hey, hey, calm down,” Rion said. “We can work this out. Let’s talk.”
Gray pulled back his arm and thrust it forward. “Throw,” he said.
Something clanked to Rion’s right. A garbage can lid flew at him. With reflexes he didn’t know he had, Rion ducked. It whooshed over, grazing his hair.
“What the hell?” Rion said.
“More death. More death. Then freedom. More death, then freedom” Gray said, his voice lowering.
“Are you like me? Do you-“
Gray reached for him. Needle-like, yellow claws poked out from his sleeves, like hedgehog spines.
Rion stumbled back into the street, avoiding getting raked in the face. He didn’t care anymore if this person was part of his past. He’d get answers later. He ran across the empty street. There was a door in an egress between buildings.
“Steam,” Gray said.
The street vibrated. Rion stopped moving until he realized it was the manhole cover he was running across. As his back foot came off, the metal disc rocketed up, flipping like a coin. Rion tripped and sprawled in front of the curb.
“Break,” Gray said, looking at a streetlight.
Rion heard a giant cracking sound. The electric pole next to him was falling towards him, shrieking of tearing wood and snapping wires.
He rolled out of the way. The pole crashed behind him, glass and metal shrapnel pricking his arms and face. Rion jumped to the door. With a prayer that it wasn’t locked, he turned the knob.
“Shit.” Rion glanced back at Gray. He was still on the other side of the street.
“Hate! Hate and death! That’s all you are. That’s all any of us are. Do you understand? Do you understand where the wolves come from?” He wobbled off the curb towards him.
Rion couldn’t run back now without crossing paths with the man-thing. He cranked the knob with all his strength. It didn’t move, but he noticed the scratched-up keypad above.
He slapped his hand on it. “Please work this time,” he whispered. He sensed.
A flat metal spike sits on the ground, next to a discarded Doritos bag.
Rion grunted. It never worked when he really needed it to. He turned to run.
Then his eye caught the red and orange of a Doritos bag. A nine-inch long spike lay next to it. Rion picked it up. It looked better suited for stabbing a door than opening it.
Unless that’s what it wanted. He jammed the thin tip inside a hole above the buttons where most of the scratches were. It blurted a disgruntled but acknowledging beep. Rion turned the knob. It gave way.
As Rion opened the door, he glanced Gray stepping over the fallen pole ten feet away. This was one like him. He could manipulate objects by telling them what to do. “I just want to talk.”
“No peace until the wolves howl.” Gray reached out his hand.
Rion backed in before anything could happen, and shut the door. It clicked. Good, it was locked.
Who the hell was this guy? He looked like a mutant from the sewer. Was he related to the spooks from before?
Rion found he was in a hall with public men’s and women’s restrooms. It must have been some sort of ground floor lobby. The hallway led to a crossroads of marble hallways, and a coffee bar, closed for the night. At the far end, a panorama of glass-paned doors led the way out.
The emergency exit behind him rattled. Gray’s voice spoke from behind the wall. “Unlock.”
The door slammed opened. The child-man sauntered in as Rion backed up.
“Who the fuck are you?” Rion asked. “Tell me.”
“In winter and June, we know these things. We only stop to find others along the way,” Gray whispered. The coat dragged underneath him–he should have been tripping over it if his legs were proportional.
“Why won’t you help me? I just want answers,” Rion said.
Gray emitted a high-pitched whine that stung Rion’s ears. “I hate you,” he said. “Turn off your soul… please,” Gray said.
“I’m not doing anything,” Rion said. He backed away with his held out his hands.
“Then die. I get to be free, if this one perishes.” Gray quickened his pace. He seemed to glide across the corridor.
“Stop following me,” Rion said. He backed up into one of the tables of the coffee bar. “Back off.” He picked up an overturned chair and hurled it at Gray.
“Break,” Gray said.
The chair broke in mid-air, separating at each joint like pieces of a model. Gray closed the distance a few feet.
Rion tensed up and gathered his focus, like he’d done at the lab. He couldn’t punch him, so maybe he could knock him out. He shouted and sensed at Gray, trying to send his power like a spear.
Gray stumbled a bit, like he was startled. “A firecracker?” he said. “Heh, a puffball.”
Fighting was no longer an option. Rion ran towards the front doors.
“Shatter,” Gray whispered.
There was no sound, no warning. The windows spontaneously exploded as if a great wind blew them out. Rion shielded his eyes and fell back.
A great weight jumped on Rion’s back. He collapsed on his stomach, knocking his wind out. Gray’s thick, round body pressed on his spine.
“Get off me,” Rion gasped.
“You will be born again… you…” Gray sniffed. “You have treats?”
“Huh?” Rion grunted.
Gray stood upright and flipped Rion over. “Treats? You have treats? Let me have them.”
Gray took hold of Rion’s pants and tried to pull them down. Rion, more surprised than scared now, grabbed his waist. “Get off,” he said.
Gray frantically tugged back. Maybe in his craving, he had forgotten his power. He released his grip and shredded Rion’s front pocket away. The gray Prozium pills spilled onto the floor.
“No, I need those,” Rion said.
“Mine!” Gray hunkered down on the floor, releasing Rion’s pants. Rion scooted away and stood up.
Gray gathered the pile to him and dropped one after the other in the space between his face and jacket collar, gulping and slurping.
Rion cursed. He lost his painkillers, but it was the distraction he needed. He jumped through the hollow doors and across pavement walkway. There was a four-story apartment building across the street, a fire escape ladder on one side. Perfect–this man would never be able to reach the ladder.
He looked for cars as he crossed the street, but there were none. The city seemed ghostly. Where was everyone? Roads in the city were never this empty, even at midnight.
Once across, he looked back towards Gray. He appeared in the windowless gold frame, heading towards him. No time to lose.
Rion jumped for the ladder. He missed with one hand, but clutched with the other. The sensation of falling almost made him lose his grip, but then he felt a jerk, and the ladder unlatched.
Rion hit the ground and tumbled away as the ladder’s feet stabbed the pavement. He regained his poise and climbed up to the first platform.
He didn’t look for Gray until he was finished pulling up the ladder. The little man had wandered across the street and stood under the ladder. He looked up at Rion like a puppy trying to get inside, moonlight reflecting in his mirrored sunglasses.
Still holding the ladder, Rion called down to him, “Why are you doing this? I don’t want to hurt you. I just want to talk.”
Gray stared up at him. “I want to be in my bed. I want to be in my bed and just wear red. I want to be in my bed and out of my head and just wear red.”
“I just want to know if you can tell me who I am.” Rion started to realize this couldn’t work. He couldn’t reason with an insane person.
Gray pointed up at the ladder. “Pull,” he whispered.
The ladder in Rion’s hands wrenched downward like it weighed half a ton. He had to let it go, lest his palms snap in half.
The ladder’s feet jammed in the ground, sending crumbs of pavement flying. Gray wrapped his floppy arms around the rungs and started climbing. Rion sprinted up the metal stairs.
This was ridiculous. He was tired, sore, and now he was running up to a dead-end on the roof. How was he supposed to get away? Gray had a power that was suitable for fighting and pursuing. All Rion could do was play Sherlock Holmes.
He reached the top of the roof and looked around, still panting from the four stories. There were a few metal mushroom air vents and the roof access door. Rion ran to it, but the door would not yield. He sensed it, but received nothing, his headache now jabbing through his adrenaline.
Gray’s head emerged from the roofline. Rion dived to the other side of the roof access. This was the stupidest place to hide–like standing behind the one tree in the middle of a field–but it was his only option.
“Where?” he heard Gray rasp. “Where did you go?”
Rion didn’t move, didn’t breathe. He couldn’t believe Gray didn’t know where he was, but reasoning was not one of this guy’s strengths.
He couldn’t hear Gray’s steps, but he could hear the swish of his coat on the sandy roofing. It was getting louder.
“Are you in here?” Gray said. Rion heard the doorknob jiggling. Why didn’t he command it to unlock? Did he know where Rion was? Was he taunting him?
“Hm,” Gray said, “He’s taken vitamins.” The swishing moved away. Rion wanted to know what was happening, but wouldn’t dare poke his head out.
“Then,” Gray said, “Combust.”
A flame the size of a beach ball burst at Rion’s right. His base instincts forced him to jump away, exposing himself.
Another explosion stopped him from going further. He turned and saw Gray standing at the edge before the street. His arm reached out. “Combust.”
Another small explosion erupted in front of Rion. He ran towards the fire escape.
A wall of flame whooshed up, blocking his path.
“Combust. Combust, combust, combust.”
Another blast detonated behind Rion, scorching his back and forcing him to move closer to Gray. Then another flare-up, and another and another. Forcing him forward, until he was close enough that Gray shot out his arm and grabbed him by the neck.
Rion’s hands grasped the sleeved arms. Gray rotated, bringing Rion closer to the edge of the roof.
“You see, Rion,” Gray said. “No matter how subtle the wizard, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp his style.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Rion could see the vast space below–tiny parked cars and power lines. He had never been so scared before–his heart threatened to beat out of his chest.
Gray laughed, seeing Rion’s fear. “Heh, heh, heh. Heh, heh, heh. Oh,” he said. “I don’t feel so good.” The grip loosened.
Gray breathed heavily. “No, no. Oh, the treats. So… good.”
Rion tore himself from Gray’s grip. The sudden release almost made him topple over the edge, but he managed fall to the roof.
Gray doubled up, holding his stomach. He groaned like he was coughing up a hairball. Then gray-green bile erupted from his mouth. But since his collar blocked his lower face, all the vomit deflected back. He looked like he had been doused in mashed potatoes.
Rion shirked back in disgust, but not enough to lose the opportunity. “Don’t you know you should only use as directed?” he said as he stood.
Rion ran forward. He put his hands on Gray’s head, slimy from the vomit, and used his power.
Gray screamed, sounding like a whining air siren. Crackles of electricity danced on his body. He backed away, but Rion kept on him.
Gray’s legs hit the ledge of the roof, and he toppled back. He grabbed Rion’s arms .
Rion was concentrating so hard that he couldn’t yank his hands back. The only thing he could do was twist himself away. Then Rion felt himself going over as Gray released him.
He felt weightless. The world became a rolling blur, alternating between night sky and yellow ground. He could only see. All his other senses shut down.
Then he felt impact. Not with the ground, but with loose springy ropes that burned his skin from friction. He was in the power lines.
Gray dropped like a ball-bearing onto the top of the power line pole, where the transformers were. There was a white hot flash, like from a large camera, and a loud sizzling pop. A thick plume of smoke rose from the stuck body.
Still bouncing up and down, Rion heard a snap, and felt himself falling again. But now he had the presence of mind to grab onto the cable. He swung like Tarzan forty feet to the ground. He held out his feet to brake, but he had too much velocity. He tripped and rolled along the ground until he stopped prone on the asphalt.
Rion tried to stand up, only managing to get his head off the ground. His body felt frozen, maybe he was in shock. He rolled onto his back, trying just to breathe.
He was right above Gray. He had landed square on the center of the pole, his limbs and coat drooped over the side. Smoke wisped from his body, and tiny drops, either blood or vomit, rained on him.
Captain Gould heard from half a block away.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck!”
Gould turned to watch Harrington heading up the street towards him, fists swinging wildly.
Lieutenant Chalmers said, “Sir, Charlie Squad just reported a flash of light of some kind in block E. Maybe an explosion.”
“Yes, I think he already knows that,” Gould said, eyes still on the approaching agent.
“You, Captain,” Harrington pointed, “Send them in. Send in everyone, send them all.”
“What?” Gould said. “We risk-“
“Find him! Find the suspect. He’s an eighteen-year-old boy,” Harrington held up the picture scanned from the security cameras. “He’s the only mother fucker in the block. Send everyone you have. Get in your vans, your cars, drive around. Find him now. I don’t care if you run over him, just find him.”
The captain took the picture. “Radio,” he said to Chalmers who handed him the box. “All right, listen up, new orders. We are to pursue suspect. We believe he is in radius of Block E. Description is as follows.” Gould rattled off a series of physical characteristics.
Harrington didn’t stay to hear the rest, or to see if Gould had any questions for him. He stormed back to the white van and unlocked the doors.
Greene was slumped in the chair, face twisted, eyes bugged out, jaw frozen open, drooling a thin pool of blood onto his knee.
“Christ, Greene. Come on, you can’t… errgh.”
He picked up his cell phone and dialed a number. “This is Harrington. Greene’s dead… Yeah, how do you think? That’s right… I don’t care. S.W.A.T.’s on it. They’ll nuke the fucking city block to get to him. I’m sick of this cat and mouse shit, this delicate extraction.”
He waited for a response, and reached for the body of his fallen comrade.
The voice on the phone asked a question. “Orders?” Harrington said. “You want orders? Kill him. Kill him, them, and anyone around them. I don’t care what he says. Kill them all.”
Rion tried to sit up. He felt paralyzed.
He felt dizzy as he rose. The motionlessness of his muscles started to fade away, but he was in terrible pain.
He was rubbing the back of his neck, wondering if he could stand, when he heard the police siren. Red and blue lights flashed against the glass panes as the howling grew louder. A pair of headlights rushed for him. And he was still in the middle of the road.
“Come on,” he told himself. “Get up.” He managed to bend his legs, but when he rocked forward enough to stand, he fell over. “Dammit.”
The headlights loomed like dragon’s eyes. He rolled towards the curb, but the lights followed him.
“Shit!” Rion exclaimed. He raised his hand to the blinding lights and clenched his teeth.
The lights passed by and stopped.
“Rion, get in here!”
A female voice. Rion lowered his hand. “Huh?”
Tuesday leaned out the driver’s side window. “Dammit, no time for questions. Get your ass in here.”
With newfound strength, Rion climbed up and tugged open the handle. He fell onto the hard plastic and closed the door behind him.
Tuesday sped off. Rion heard more sirens and looked out the back. More cop cars, led by a heavy police van.
“Time to go,” Tuesday said and accelerated. The police cars zipped left and right down side-streets, sounding a cacophony of yowling and wailing. The headed straight through the city, almost colliding with one car zooming out of an intersection.
“Jeez, watch where you’re going, huh?” she said as she beeped the horn. “Where’d you learn how to drive? Bangalore?”
“What the hell is going on?” Rion shouted.
“Don’t worry about them. They’re like kids looking for the last Easter egg.”
“How did you find me?”
“Well, remember how I said that there was no one looking for you?”
“Yeah, that changed. Everyone is looking for you. And I mean everyone.”
Tuesday hit some buttons on her computer console. The video screen showed a grainy shot of his face from the parking garage.
“This was in every single officer’s desk, locker, and wall when I got to work this morning.”
“Oh my god,” Rion said.
“You look good with bushy eyebrows and a goatee. Not so much with a mustache.”
“Who’s looking for me?”
“That’s the thing. They don’t say. They just give a number that directs to a voice mail.”
“Just a number?”
“Yep,” she took a sharp turn. “My guess is that it’s some kind of clusterfuck with a private security company and the local police. I’m just taking advantage of the chaos.”
A set of widely spaced orange and white striped police barricades loomed ahead.
“All right, time for all that Grand Theft Auto to pay off. Hold onto your butt.”
She floored the car, throwing Rion against the seat. The barricades flew away like children’s toys.
Rion looked out the back. Police cars whizzed left and right, up and down, with no apparent purpose. Red and blue flashed against the alleys and metal poles. But no one followed them.